Residents of UK villages are responding to police shortages by meting out vigilante justice. Towns and villages surrounding the New Forest National Park in southern England have formed their own investigative teams to look into hundreds of unsolved burglaries as police disappear. Law enforcement numbers in the UK have dropped by 20% since 2010, but current police are warning citizens not to take the drastic action of taking matters into their own hands.
“From a public safety angle, it’s not good at all. It’s putting yourself and your community at risk,” said former officer Ruth Halkon. She added that not all crime is what it seems, and groups could detain a suspect for a minor theft only to discover this person is a dangerous gang member.
The new organizations use Facebook and other social media platforms to coordinate their efforts and investigate unsolved crimes.
Policing is an increasingly contentious issue in the UK, with the government under growing pressure to improve responses to crime. The Minister in charge, Suella Braverman, recently prompted a row when she ordered a review of the country’s forces, saying they are too political and had neglected law enforcement.
“The British people expect their police to focus on cutting crime and protecting communities – political activism does not keep people safe, solve crimes or support victims, but can damage public confidence,” she said.
Political policing is a common complaint among the British public and was exacerbated in 2020 when officers knelt to the ground in deference to a Black Lives Matter group who defaced monuments and burned the UK flag.
Officers furthermore watched silently while statues of historical figures were torn down and are often seen joining in protests and marches such as Pride parades. Last November, Suella Braverman accused forces of dereliction of duty when they failed to remove climate activists from major highways despite causing mass disruption. She ordered a crackdown on the protestors and said police must be politically neutral.